Outsourcing O&M is a great idea because it allows the asset-owner to focus on diversification, returns and scale. However it would work well only if the owners get the most competent people to work on maximizing the throughput of the installations. Affording in-house O&M can be expensive. Therefore, outsourcing solar O&M is not just about technology and techniques, it’s about partnering with someone having an international perspective of the best practices in plant inspection procedures, quality assessment plans and checklists for maintenance.
Look for 360-degree maintenance: The outsource partner must provide O&M services that include periodic and preventive maintenance checks with IV curve analysis and thermographic imaging. Physical O&M tasks, such as module cleaning, housekeeping and security, could be carried out through third parties under the supervision of the outsourcee, making it an integrated O&M service contract that includes real-time monitoring, service and asset management.
EPRI’s PV O&M Report recommends not scheduling panel cleanings too far in advance. Rain can effectively improve module efficiencies by 3 to 5% without the labor or cost of manual cleanings.
Instead of building O&M calendars around preventive, corrective or reactive maintenance, CBM (condition-based monitoring) can be practiced using the outsourced platform. CBM uses real-time data to prioritize and optimize maintenance and resources. Though largely incipient, an increasing number of third party integrators and turnkey providers are developing CBM regimes to offer greater O&M efficiency.
Look for warranty management: When your goal is continuous performance improvement with predictive data analytics, there will be pressure on the vendors across the supply chain. As an asset owner, if the pressure can be transferred to an outsource partner, why not?
Data capture from RFID tags and module flash reports permit online warranty management of your most expensive assets in an integrated manner anyway. To have the outsourcee examine and report on every other component would facilitate a double check on the equipment and make for better operating performance.
Ironclad warranty agreements that clearly assign manufacturer, site integrator and EPC responsibilities can help contain the costs of unplanned equipment replacement. Boilerplate contracts that clearly articulate the insurance requirements to O&M third parties (e.g., EPC, manufacturers, etc.) are recommended.
Look for performance guarantees: The asset-owner should decide on performance monitoring systems as management tools for the 25-year lifetime, and such decisions can be in conjunction with the EPC (that may exit after two or five years) but not left to them alone. On the other hand, the EPC would be greatly facilitated should the developer outsource O&M since it adds value for the installation, the developer, the cost of operation and the payback for all concerned.
As is obvious, the longest phase of expense in the lifecycle of a PV project is O&M. Decisions on this often get clouded by the imminent needs at existing installations or commitments to commence multiple installations in a short duration. Teams are often recruited for the development and construction phases and those competencies do not serve O&M adequately. Outsourcing O&M with the leadership focused on new development and expansion brings together the best of both worlds.
The terms for outsourcing to an O&M partner must ideally be decided alongside the terms of finance. Engaging early with the right O&M experience can keep costs well below the PPA throughout the project life cycle. For instance, if the O&M contract is for five more more years, the cost of hardware and software can be negotiated in the O&M cost itself because it would form part of the performance guarantee and build a financial stake for the outsource partner as well.
To operate and maintain your solar assets optimally, while you stay focused on new plants and expanding installed capacity, consider outsourcing solar O&M.
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This article was contributed by SolarPro